Life is full of decisions and changes. Both are certain for all and there is no escaping them. Some people fear change while others embrace it. For a pair of University of Oklahoma track and field seniors, change has proven to be a good thing.
When Ashley Kowalewski joined the team prior to the 2011 season, she was not honing her skills as a Division I javelin thrower as she is now. Why, simply put, her event at that time was, the pole vault.
"Halfway through my first season here I was really struggling with the vault, I just wasn't all there with it," Kowalewski explained. "Amy Backel, who was an All-American, was volunteer coaching here at that time. She came up to me and shared that she thought I looked like I could be good at the javelin, so I said sure."
While switching from a familiar event to an unfamiliar event in the midst of a collegiate career can be a daunting task, Kowalewski pointed out that making the change from pole vault to javelin is not as impossible as people may think.
"A lot of people do not immediately realize how similar the two are, but a lot of the technical stuff is the same," Kowalewski said. "Sometimes I miss being crazy and flying upside down, but I love the way throwing a javelin feels. It's like throwing a spear, and how many people get to do that?"
Kowalewski may fit the mold now as a successful collegiate javelin thrower, but as throws coach Brian Blutreich explained, it was not that way at the beginning of the journey.
"This is not something you just pick up and do," Blutreich said. "I remember the first time she worked out with me she actually tripped and fell in front of me.I knew she had a long way to go, but she has really worked hard and persevered.
"She proved to me that she could earn her spot on the team and she's just been non-stop ever since. Her hard work is definitely paying off right now. "
The other Sooner to embrace change is Matthias Wicks. While Wicks has always kept to the same competition, unlike Kowalewski, he has not, however, always competed in the crimson and cream.
Following his freshman season at a community college in Kansas, Wicks transferred to OU to become a Sooner. His change produced the challenge of competing at a higher level.
"It was a big change and really different for me once I got here," Wicks explained. "There was a whole new system here, a different work ethic and a completely different culture. It took a lot of learning and adapting."
The Tulsa, Okla., native has been able to adapt to the higher level of competition through determination and focus. Sprints, hurdles and relays coach Kevin Tyler, who joined the Sooner last summer, explained that those qualities were evident in Wicks when they first started working together last fall.
"He has a real competitive streak in him, and that became apparent the first time I met him," Tyler said. "He tries to win everything. He is a big-time competitor and he likes big-time competition."
The current Oklahoma track and field roster shows a very young team where up and comers are the majority and the experienced seniors are the minority. As two of the more seasoned athletes, both Wicks and Kowalewski have spent their senior seasons stepping into roles of leadership on the team. While teammates and coaches would describe the two's leadership styles very differently -- Kowalewski more vocal and Wicks more quiet -- both lead by example.
"Matthias is a very focused person," Tyler explained. "He is kind of quiet around the track and the other guys. He tends to lead through action as opposed to verbally communicating. He is a very determined individual in everything that he does and the other athletes pick up on that."
"Ashley is extremely positive and she has an electric personality that people are drawn to," Blutreich said. "She's got a great attitude, whether she is throwing well or not throwing well, and that is infectious with the team. She has definitely earned the title of leader among her peers.”
Kowalewski understands leadership as an essential part of what it means to be a Sooner.
“Before I leave, I want to instill that sense of leadership, especially among the throwers,” Kowalewski added. “Being a Sooner is huge and it is a gigantic responsibility and honor. When you come out of the stadium and people are looking at you, people want to see what an OU athlete is going to do. I am excited to see the athletes behind me step up.”
Wicks described that same pride that grows within a Sooner student-athlete.
“It has meant a lot to be a Sooner,” said Wicks. “I didn’t really think that this would have that much of an impact on me, but anytime I hear other people say ‘Oklahoma Sooner’ or ‘Boomer Sooner’, I have a swelling of pride. It feels good to be recognized as a Sooner athlete.”
With the final home meet of their careers fast approaching, this Saturday at the annual John Jacobs Invitational, the two seniors are taking the time to reflect on their careers while looking ahead to what remains.
For Kowalewski, her final home meet is a chance to compete with the whole team and prepare to take on the goals she has set for the rest of the season.
“Having a meet at home is really exciting. The whole team is competing so it is a chance for us all to come together,” Kowalewski said. “Everything after the meet is exciting, too. I am ready and more prepared than I have ever been. I feel like I am stronger and I am throwing a lot better than I ever have, and hopefully I just keep getting better and better.”
For Wicks, the end may be approaching too fast, but it is just another challenge he is ready to take on.
“It is very bittersweet, but mostly good,” Wicks explained. “It feels like it came a little too quick, but I have learned a lot of things, things I will take with me in whatever I do.
“One of my goals is to win at the Big 12 Championships, individually and as a team, to bring the championship back home.”
Big challenges often follow big change. It is the response to the challenge that determines the result. Kowalewski and Wicks have responded to those challenges with hard work and determination, and in turn, have found success. With the championship season still ahead, look for these two seniors to continue responding well to the challenges that may arise and show that change can be a good thing.
By Andrew McCracken, student intern, OU Athletics Communications